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Russian Gov’t Lists Andrey Rylkov Foundation as ‘Foreign Agent,’ Putting Harm Reduction Services at Risk

On June 29, 2016, The Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation included our organization, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in its list of “foreign agents” and has published an official announcement on its website.

According to the announcement, the “fact that the organization has characteristics of an NGO carrying out functions of a foreign agent was established by the Main Department of the Ministry of Justice in the Russian Federation in Moscow during a regularly scheduled document check.” 

Our organization works on issues related to public health: prevention of HIV, Tuberculosis, hepatitis C and drug overdoses. We also provide social support to people who suffer from drug dependence, helping them to stay healthy, referring them to medical and social services in Moscow, rehabilitation centers, and narcological hospitals.

We make contact with people who use drugs through street-based social work and we are the only organization in the city which has constant access to this group. This group is very vulnerable to health problems and their access to medical services throughout the city is restricted. Almost no one wants to work with them. People who are drug dependent often can’t receive the medical help they need whether it is treatment for abscesses or TBHIV. Most participants of our project are denied access to the hospitals, refused help and left to suffer. Together with our participants and supporters we fight for access to medicine, effective treatment, improved health care and protection of rights. These were the actions that Ministry of Justice considered to be a political activity.

We work on the streets of Moscow every day. Last year we served 3,854 men and 1,096 women, carrying out over 300 consultations on HIV and hepatitis. We provided consultation to 371 people on drug dependence (including consultation with a psychologist and referral to treatment) and many received consultations regarding overdose and abscesses. In only the last two years, through our work promoting access to naloxone, a medication for overdose deaths prevention, we received confirmation that we had saved 417 lives! And these are just the ones that we know about. It is harder to count the number of HIV or hepatitis infections that we prevented.

Yes, we do carry out our work using foreign funding, donations from private foundations and crowdfunding. But this is not because we want to work this way. Over the last few years, we applied for President’s grants four times so that our work could be funded from Russian sources but our projects were never financed. For a long time already, HIV prevention is not funded from public funds. But we will try to continue to work as we have in the past, helping drug dependent people on the streets of Moscow, and trying to promote the drug policy based on humaneness, tolerance, public health, human rights and dignity.

Recently we received the administrative offence report from the Ministry of Justice clarifying exactly which of our activities were considered political. These include:

  • Participation in the “Support. Don’t Punish” campaign in 2015. For the campaign, we held one-person pickets in front of the office of the Federal Drug Control Service (which has since been disbanded) demanding the introduction of opioid substitution therapy – a cost-effective evidence based approach to deal with drug dependency – in Russia. 
  • Publication on our website of an Open letter from the Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD) to the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation (RF) on the results of a special session of the Government Commission of the RF on the response to the HIV epidemic and public health. The Ministry of Justice paid particular attention to those parts of the letter which called for the introduction of opioid substitution therapy in Russia.
  • Interview of the President of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation Anya Sarang given at TV Rain on November 26, 2013. In this interview Anya provided negative feedback on the law introducing the forced treatment of the drug dependent people. In the opinion of the Ministry of Justice, the expression of the expert opinion on the “policy pursued by the public authorities" also is considered as a political activity.

In spite of the much higher risks we face now due to numerous traps hidden in the law of the foreign agents which could lead to significant administrative fines, we are currently planning to continue our activities including those focused on prevention of HIV and other health-related problems among people who use drugs. And we will appeal the decision of the Ministry of Justice. The legal support will be provided by the NGO Lawyers Club

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